Located inside the hulking monolith that is St Bartholemew’s church, the veritable belly of the beast, is a wacky art installation by sculptor and spoken word artist Brian Mander.
Even though some of the poem’s meaning was lost on the audience, the sculpture was visually interesting and there was a good sense of atmosphere.
Like a ship sunk in the bottom of the ocean (the church is cavernous inside), the abstract model is made of stone cherubs, fat snakes of rope, buckets, scaffolding, and, interestingly, what appear to be the wings of a sea plane or helicopter propellers. Perched on top of the central mast is what looks like a shop mannequin, with an eerily boyish face, wings for arms, and a cross spray painted onto his chest. His chin is tilted up towards the looming 30ft cross mosaicked into the wall above the altar. The gold mosaic of Jesus and the saints overlooks all.
The scene was set, and Mander paced up and down his plank, playing the Mariner as he read from the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In true character, he attempted to swig from a bottle throughout his reading, although this proved difficult between trying to keep the audience engaged and occasionally forgetting his words. Although a monotonous reading at times, the acoustics in the cavernous church created a spooky, gothic atmosphere – the words of the famous poems echoed, and at times the green evening light seeping through the rose window above the door added to the impression of being sunk down at the bottom of the ocean. Even though some of the poem’s meaning was lost on the audience, the sculpture was visually interesting and there was a good sense of atmosphere. The staging would have lent itself well to a production in the round, as it looked good from all angles. Mander did some impressive work making the sculpture but could have used the space he created more, although placing a paper boat in the bird bath at the prow of the ship was a lovely touch.
Worth a visit to the church to see the sculpture, especially if you’ve never visited England’s tallest church without a steeple.